A Comparison of Joshua Tree National Park Driving Tours

by Bridgette Redman  |  Published August 8, 2023

Journey into the heart of Joshua Tree National Park with a driving tour exploring the desert landscape.

Photo: Joshua Tree National Park / Courtesy

Driving tours take you through the desert, introducing you to the rugged, otherworldly Joshua trees with their twisted limbs that stand like ancient sentinels. Deeper in the park, you’ll witness massive boulders precariously balanced atop one another and perhaps catch sight of the diverse wildlife in the park, including desert tortoises and roadrunners. We compare three different driving tours, starting with a self-guided tour, offering you opportunities to experience the park in ways that most fit your preferences.

Self-Driving Audio Tour

If you are looking for the freedom to explore the park at your own pace on your own schedule, then this self-driving audio tour provides you with a wealth of options. Once you download the Action Tour Guide app and put your password in, the tour is yours for life, to use as many times as you want. With a location-aware map, the stories automatically play based on your location, making it easy to use. The map also works offline so you don’t need a cell signal or wifi once you have downloaded it. Stories include the dramatic tales of the Cahuilla tribe,  McHaney Gang, gold thieves and the hardscrabble men and women who once lived in the park. It leads you to hidden secrets and little-known places. The tour takes you by the Joshua trees and reveals what Mormon pioneers thought they meant. It reveals a hiking trail leading to rocks with cryptic spiritual inscriptions on them. It shares information about wildlife and the best place to catch the sunset or go stargazing. The tour ends at the Oasis Visitor Center. Download is $14.99 per phone.

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Joshua Tree Open-Air Hummer Adventure

Photo: Open-air Hummer tour of Joshua Tree National Park / Courtesy

When you want someone else to do the driving–and for the drive to be an adventure, head over to Palm Springs or Palm Desert, California and sign on to this Outdoor Adventures, Inc. tour. You’ll take a shuttle into the park where you will board an open-air military H1 Hummer.  From there an expert geology guide will take you on a 5-hour tour of the park’s most iconic sights and offer insight on its geology, fauna and cultural history. The tour will help you search out wildlife such as bighorn sheep, golden eagles and coyotes. The Hummer will climb to the top of Eureka Peak so you can take in the valley and a view that stretches to Mexico.  For those who want it, there is an optional mile walk on the Barker Dam Trail that includes granite formations and forests of the iconic Joshua trees, ancient plants that survived the Ice Age. Another optional half-mile hike will loop you through precarious rock formations which is one of the most photographed areas in the park. The organizers encourage you to wear comfortable walking shoes and possess a moderate fitness level. From $179 per person.

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Joshua Tree National Park Driving Tour

Photo Joshua Tree National Park van tour / Courtesy

Are you a first-time visitor? Big Wheel Tours offers a 4.5-hour experience in which you’ll pile into an air-conditioned van or SUV in Palm Desert and travel throughout the park. It’s a chance to see the park’s famous spiky trees and take pictures of terrain that spans the Colorado and Mojave deserts. This experience starts by taking participants to Keys View, 5,000 feet up. An optional, short nature hike is available at the Hidden Valley before the tour makes a stop at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. The Center is an opportunity to pick up souvenirs and take a restroom/refreshment break before heading into the next three hours, led by an experienced guide who will help participants discover wildlife and learn about the unique aspects of Joshua Tree National Park. This part of the tour offers a second, optional nature hike.  The tour is limited to 20 participants and the operators encourage visitors to dress for the weather as it will take place in all conditions. From $209 per person.

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